EVANSTON, Ill. -- One of the marquee matchups of the 2013 women's lacrosse season arrives Saturday when No. 4 Northwestern hosts No. 5 Syracuse at Lakeside Field in a rematch of the 2012 NCAA Championship game. The contest kicks off a challenging stretch for the Wildcats, who in seven of their last eight regular season games will face teams that reached the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
All fans are invited to be part of a BLACKOUT at Lakeside Field, where Northwestern Athletics will be giving away free black Northwestern Lacrosse T-shirts to early-arriving fans to help provide the Wildcats the best homefield advantage in women's lacrosse.
Tickets to all Northwestern Lacrosse home games may be purchased at the entrance to Lakeside Field for $7 (adults), $4 (senior citizens and youths) or $3 for large groups. Admission is free for Northwestern students with presentation of a valid WildCard. Parking is free for all fans.
Following the 'Cats
Be sure to tune in as the Big Ten Network carries Saturday afternoon's matchup live to a national television audience, with BTN's Mike Wolf handling play-by-play duties and Kara Lentz providing color analysis. Fans can supplement their viewing with live in-game updates via the @NU_SportsLIVE account on Twitter or Gametracker (linked above).
Scouting the Orange 2013 Season: 5-2 (1-0 BIG EAST), No. 5 IWLCA 2012 Postseason: NCAA Runner-Up Head Coach: Gary Gait (Syracuse, '90); 71-21 at Syracuse (sixth season) Key Players: Michelle Tumolo (Sr., A): 16 goals, 14 assists; Alyssa Murray (Jr., A): 19 goals, 12 assists; Becca Block (Sr., D): 22 ground balls, 27 draw controls In the Cage: Kelsey Richardson (So., GK): 8.12 GAA, .415 save pct.; Alyssa Constantino (Jr., GK): 12.9 GAA, .328 GAA Series History: NU leads, 10-1 Last Meeting: Northwestern 8, Syracuse 6; NCAA Championship game (May 27, 2012; Stony Brook, N.Y.)
Northwestern and Syracuse engaged in not one but two memorable battles during the 2012 campaign, beginning in February when the Wildcats stole an 11-9 overtime victory in SU's Carrier Dome. Northwestern trailed 6-2 in the first half before scoring the game's next seven goals, only to have the Orange rally with three straight in the final four minutes to force overtime. In the extra period, Erin Fitzgerald and Shannon Smith netted unassisted goals to deny SU's upset bid.
The Orange had their chance at revenge three months later when they earned the program's first-ever berth in the NCAA championship game thanks to a remarkable comeback over top-seeded Florida in the semifinals. In the process, SU became the sixth different opponent the 'Cats faced during their eight straight trips to the championship game. Like in the regular season meeting, it was Syracuse that took an early 4-2 advantage, but Kelly Amonte Hiller's Wildcats did not back down. NCAA championship MVP Shannon Smith came away with two goals and two assists while Taylor Thornton provided the eventual game-winning goal on offense, while faceguarding specialist Kerri Harrington limited Tewaaraton Award finalist Michelle Tumolo to just one goal as NU captured its seventh NCAA championship.
Amonte Hiller enters Saturday's showdown having led NU to 10 consecutive wins in the all-time series with Syracuse, a team now under the direction of one of Amonte Hiller's former coaches, SU lacrosse legend Gary Gait. Gait was an assistant coach on Cindy Timchal's staff at the University of Maryland as Amonte Hiller helped the Terps begin a string of eight NCAA championship seasons in College Park.
Defending Their Turf
Lakeside Field has been a difficult place for opponents to leave with a `W' during Kelly Amonte Hiller's tenure, with the Wildcats winning 85 of 87 games on the lakefront since the start of the 2005 season. Saturday's matchup with Syracuse also marks the 41st time a team ranked in the top 10 nationally has visited Evanston since Northwestern returned to varsity status in 2002, with NU posting a stellar 35-5 record in those contests. A year ago, NU won home games against top-10 foes North Carolina (No. 3), Notre Dame (No. 6) and Virginia (No. 9).
Follow My Lead
Returning Honda Sports Award winner Taylor Thornton refused to let the Wildcats fall victim to Ohio State's upset bid Wednesday night, finding her scoring touch to the tune of a career-best four goals. The effort included two free position scores and a stretch in the second half in which Thornton notched three straight goals for the Wildcats, the last of which brought the score level at 7-7 for the first time since it had been 2-2. Thornton now has 12 goals on the year and 64 for her stellar career.
Starting Off Right
Against Ohio State Wednesday, attacker Nancy Dunbar became the fourth different freshman to appear in Northwestern's starting lineup this season, a move by Kelly Amonte Hiller that paid dividends as Dunbar recorded a career-best two points on one goal and one assist. The rookie from Baltimore now has scored a point in five of the last six games for the Wildcats.
Pick Your Poison
Northwestern's offense has been firing on all cylinders since the opening draw of the 2013 season, ranking third nationally with 15.4 goals per game. NU has been spreading the wealth on attack and now has four players with at least 15 points and six in double figures, led by Erin Fitzgerald's 29 goals and 32 points. Upperclassmen Alyssa Leonard (25 points), Amanda Macaluso (22) and Ali Cassera (12) all needed only eight games to meet or exceed their points total of a year ago, while junior Kelly Rich (10) is just two points shy of that mark.
Bianco Settles In Between the Pipes
Northwestern debuted a new anchor to its defense when it took the field on opening weekend following the graduation of three-year starting goalkeeper Brianne LoManto, who last year ranked in second in the country in goals against average (7.17). Sophomore Bridget Bianco has ably taken over the starting role, beginning the week ranked sixth in the country with a GAA of just 6.82. Bianco, who has recorded a career-best nine saves on three different occasions this year, turned away eight Ohio State shots Wednesday in limiting the Buckeyes to more than four goals below their season scoring average.
With the midway point of its schedule in the rearview mirror, Northwestern this week will prepare for a challenging two-games-in-three-days stretch, hosting talented ALC foe Penn State at 7 p.m. Friday before jetting to Charlottesville, Va., to face ACC power Virginia on Sunday evening.